We all have a need for connection, intimacy and emotional support. It’s the reason we are driven to create and maintain relationships with friends and partners, but just as relationships can be our greatest joy, they can also cause us the most pain. How often have you felt let down by someone in your life because they seem unwilling or unable to give you what you need? It might be your partner jumping in with “helpful” solutions to your problem when all you want is someone to listen. It could be a friend who invites an extra person along on your coffee date when you were really looking forward to some one-on-one time, or someone who barely lets you have a moment to share your issues before changing the topic of conversation to focus on themselves.
If you find yourself getting frustrated or feeling resentful towards people, it’s often because your emotional needs aren’t being met. When you try to pinpoint what the problem is, you can readily identify the behaviour you don’t like. The problem is that focusing on someone’s behaviour doesn’t usually adequately express the real issue. People are very quick to defend their actions because they don’t actually understand what the real problem is. Communicating your emotional needs requires a level of vulnerability which we often avoid.
It’s important to remember that no-one is a mind reader and the only person responsible for ensuring you get your needs met is you. When you harbour resentments, it can drive a wedge between you and the people you care about. If you’re having difficulties in a relationship, here are some tips for helping you communicate more effectively:
1. Name the need
Here’s the tricky thing. For you to ask for what you need, you actually need to look within and work out what it is. If you’re feeling annoyed, irritated or offended by someone’s behaviour, it’s helpful to look beyond the actions to what those actions actually represent to you. What is the emotional need that has not been met? Is it connection, empathy, understanding or simply reassurance that you matter to the other person?
2. Take responsibility
Remember that while something may be very obvious to you, most of us are preoccupied with our concerns so it’s not fair to assume that anyone else will automatically know what you need from them in any given moment. Getting your needs met means taking full responsibility for your own emotional wellbeing.
3. Drop your defenses
The people in your life generally aren’t out to deliberately upset you and most times they will happily meet your needs if they know how to. When you put defensive walls up, you close the door on communication and nothing good ever comes from shutting people out. It’s hard to be vulnerable, but being willing to open up is the only way to a more satisfying and mutually supportive relationship.
4. Communicate to connect
When you do open up and tell someone what you’re feeling, it’s important to express yourself in a way that encourages connection, not conflict. You can do this by being clear that you aren’t blaming the other person for your feelings and by expressing appreciation for the person. Be mindful of any tendency to go into blame or criticism and stay focused on the importance of the relationship.
5. Be clear and specific
You might need to practice if you’re not used to asking for what you need in a relationship but the more you do it, the easier it will become. Try to be as specific as possible about what you need and what the other person can do in that moment. For example, you might say, “I appreciate that you really want to help me solve this, but I think I just need you to listen and I’m sure I’ll come to my own solution.” If you have a friend who continually moves the topic of conversation to her own issues, you might say, “I know you have some things going on in your life too but I wonder if you could give me your support to work this out and then I’ll happily give you my full attention.”
So often you hear of friendships falling apart and people saying, “I have no idea what went wrong.” Usually what goes wrong is people get tired of not having their needs met and rather than have an uncomfortable conversation about it, they feel resentful, and eventually detach and allow the friendship to dissolve. Most of us would rather have a difficult conversation than lose a friend but it might take you to be the one to make the first move.